Empathy: Giving Voice to Emotion

A CliftonStrengths Theme Spotlight

"People exceptionally talented in the Empathy theme can sense other people's feelings by imagining themselves in others' lives or situations." -The Gallup Organization

The Talents of People High in Empathy

People high in the Empathy theme have the unbelievable ability to sense AND feel the emotions of others. They can walk into an environment and almost immediately take the emotional temperature of the room. In my experience, this is not a talent that can be taught. Sure, I can teach someone to pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues and make educated guesses about the emotions of others. But I can't teach someone to take on the emotions of others as though they were their own. This is why we need people with this incredible Relationship Building talent in our lives.

Those with Empathy bring emotional depth to their relationships and workplaces. They are typically very in tune with their own feelings and enjoy conversations about their emotional lives. While others are tentative or anxious about bringing emotional matters to the surface, those high in Empathy invite and nurture emotional expression. Because of this they are often sought-after confidants and friends. They help prevent or resolve conflicts. They ensure that others feel seen, heard, and understood. They usually prefer to listen intently instead of giving rushed advice when others approach them for care or counsel. They anticipate how others will feel and can give voice to unspoken concerns or reactions.

As leaders, those high in Empathy are tuned in to the emotional and mental health of their followers. They are quick to sense trouble ahead and can fend off any issues lurking around the corner. They are sensitive, aware, and transparent about their own thoughts and feelings, which increases perceptions of vulnerability and builds trust.

One individual with a leader high in Empathy described her this way:

"She has never made me feel like I had to keep it all together all the time. She always says that she can look at us in the morning and just know what kind of day we're going to have as a team. At first that kind of freaked me out, but now that I've seen her at work for a few years, I know what an advantage that gives her. She is so dialed-in to us that I have never felt uncared for, and that is probably my favorite thing about her."

The Temptations for People High in Empathy

Because those high in Empathy bring emotional intelligence and expression to their relationships and workplaces, they can sometimes struggle to set good boundaries for themselves when it comes to their involvement in emotional matters. They might become too involved or find themselves incapable of separating their own emotions from the emotions of others. Because others are drawn to them for comfort and counsel, those high in Empathy are often the recipients of a lot of self-disclosures in their workplaces. If they don't learn to develop rhythms for processing and decompressing, they will likely become emotionally drained from taking on the emotions of those around them.

A friend who is high in Empathy said it this way:

"At the end of the day I am exhausted. I've felt everything from this person's highest high to that person's lowest low. I've talked about it, prayed about it, thought about it, listened to them talk about it, and felt it all day long. It's hard to not take all of that home and continue thinking about it all night until it feels crippling to me."

At times those high in Empathy can also be perceived as "soft" or "moody" in nature. People who work alongside them might feel anxious to share personal or professional news with them out of fear that it will cause them more emotional distress. Sometimes people with Empathy place too much emphasis on emotional factors and make ill-advised decisions or escalate issues that would have died down without their involvement. Additionally, sometimes they will want to take action based on intuition alone, without evidence to back up their feelings.

Empathize With Yourself

Here are a couple of quick ideas to get you thinking about how to leverage and self-regulate if you've got a dominant Empathy theme:

  1. Look for opportunities to help other people name and describe their feelings. This comes so naturally to you that you likely don't realize how challenging it can be for others around you. Your emotional intelligence is needed to ensure the team is successful and emotionally healthy.

  2. Partner with positive and uplifting people who can help you create healthy boundaries and rhythms for yourself. You might need an exercise partner, a counselor, or someone to take an art or music class with you at the end of a tough week.

  3. When leading a team or working with others, make sure you communicate about your Empathy theme. Your ability to sense and feel the emotions of others doesn't make you soft or weak. Rather, it gives you a competitive advantage.

At ROI Talent Development, we try to help people fall in love with every single talent theme, even if it isn't dominant in their own theme sequence. Because when we all take the time to understand and appreciate one another, we build happy and healthy workplaces where employee talents are valued and developed.

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